Mass Effect’s original trilogy gameplay relied heavily on its tree-based dialogue system. Your dialogue choices essentially drove the game. As what has become popular for many story-driven games, you made dialogue selections and those choices affected your story in a minor way that is later reflected by something in the plot. The character of Shepard was designed to be somewhat bland and without personality to facilitate those choices. The player could be a Paragon and choose options that were meant to be charming, good, and non-violent or go Renegade and instead choose to hit aliens in the face as much as possible. It was this face-hitting ability that made Shepard’s morality gameplay fun to play. The enjoyment came from quickly solving problems with a Han Solo-ian approach or feeling the satisfaction of rising above violence and taking it on the chin, like a proper hero.
With this adaptation of a morality system, Ryder, the game’s replacement for Shepard will be taking the reins. will be who you control throughout your time as Pathfinder. While performing their search for new inhabitable worlds with their crew, Ryder will have a lot to live up to. Given the new dialogue options, there will be a certain attention placed on what the developer chooses to do about the absence of an explicit good/bad dynamic. Ryder will have to be strong in some way, in order to give some significance to your choices. While not an incredibly memorable character, Shepard was loved by series fans. The cold, imposing element of Shepard’s persona was part of what made him likable and believable as a captain and leader. A failure to meet that same level of charm from the voice actors and writing will be met with a particularly agitated response.
The hype train for Andromeda will be coming in to station very soon. Fans of the series, of course, strongly desire a quality fourth game, but trailers for the game came with some red flags (and given that the entire purpose of a trailer is to skip over red flags, this is bad news.) One of the largest and most aggressively waving flags was the appearance of the game’s protagonists in the trailers (both male and female.) They look and sound younger and perhaps lost, on their way to an audition for a Nickelodeon Original Series. Contrary to the muscular physique, authoritative posture, and stern voice of Shepard, these characters are younger and seem to be designed to be more like what developers believe their player identifies with emotionally. There is nothing wrong with younger or even timid lead characters. In fact, these types of characters go against the typical western need to have an unhuman Betty-Sue lead without faults. This is always preferable. However, given what is available to be seen, it appears as though BioWare has not done the necessary work to make these non-macho characters believable or appropriate for their roles as a form of soldiers.
When making a fourth story for a series, there are hurdles. The writer is concerned about being contrary enough to what has come before to be artistically interesting. The younger looking characters seen in the trailers are meant to be jarring, no problem; taking chances is great. In writing, the successful execution of an odd or different idea makes for concepts that are particularly engaging and meaningful. When it’s done successfully, audiences will take note of it and recognize it as a goal that was achieved. It’s been done before. An easy example of this would be Hideo Kojima’s passing of the torch from the gruff Solid Snake, to the lame and ineffectual Raiden. Raiden was a surprise that most fans hated, but the choice to include him ultimately turned out to be a thought-out, character-arch driven, and somewhat realistic choice to contrast Snake’s campy machismo. That this will this be the case for Mass Effect 4’s hero has yet to be seen but the trailers, previous writing in the games, and setting make a strong argument against this. Luckily, as with all Mass Effect games, the player will at least be given control over their player’s appearance.
Mass Effect: Andromeda will be released on March 21, 2017 for XBO, PS4, and PC.